Jeremy Squires is a folk singer/songwriter from New Bern, North Carolina. You probably remember we reviewed his album, Shadows, last year, describing it as “a record borne out of legitimate heartbreak, the end of a marriage and the death of a loved one, a brave and honest attempt to deal with big life-changing events”. We were therefore genuinely excited to learn that Squires had a new record, one that promised to utilise his brand of heartfelt storytelling to delve even deeper into his own experiences. The album, titled Collapse, the most personal and quietly devastating record Squires has ever made.

The album opens with ‘58’, a slight departure from Squires’s previous work in as much as it’s more of a full band effort, drums and bass adding depth to his usual lonely acoustic sound. A touching reference to his late mother, the track takes an interesting post-Christian approach to death, the words addressing the lost loved one directly, while also admitting, “I know you cannot hear me now / when you are is far away at the speed of sound / and I’m always reminded that everything is on its way to another place”. The song explores that middle ground between no longer believing our forefathers’ versions of faith and spirituality, and not being quite ready to give up on a world beyond our own.

More akin to the songs on Shadows, ‘Water Signs’ is a heartfelt slo-mo country track that introduces another of the album’s main themes―an ill-fated and mutually destructive relationship governed by struggles with addiction. If ‘Water Signs’ is all desperate declarations of love and final curtain calls, ‘Fall On Me’ exists in a hushed and anxious aftermath, Squires joined by Field Report’s Shane Leonard on drums, bass and synth.

“There’s an eerie glow
when the TV casts a light through the haunted house
When I lie awake at night and I think about too many things
I wish I could call you when my mind is stirring”

Many of these songs are at least partially autobiographical, and this authenticity is the standout quality of Squires’s songwriting, every line able to ring true with a kind of resigned and wistful acceptance. It’s the sound of a man who has lived through a lot, and who may still not have all the answers but is at least getting better at anticipating the questions.

‘Night Cars’ is a standout track, a beautifully ruminative folk song where the guitar gathering in intensity as Heather McEntire (of Mount Moriah) joins vocal duties. The track deals with what Squires describes as the “trial and tribulation in this worn-out heart,” a frustrated weariness in watching a loved one succumb again and again. ‘Remnants’ is enclosed with claustrophobic religious imagery (“Children play where you lay / near a permanent stain / on the wall hangs a cross / that don’t keep all your demons away”), while ‘Where the Devil Sings’ is sour with poison, a madness-induced by living with addiction and trying to support its victim. ‘Leave-Taking’ sees the relationship finally end (“Well I knew you’d leave right from the start / but when it comes around it still breaks your heart”), before the closing track, ‘Secrets I Can Keep’, sees out the record. The song is infused with a wistful sense of acceptance, built entirely from gentle guitar, slowly winding pedal steel and Squires’s vocals.

“I don’t wanna let you go
and i don’t wanna watch you stumble
I don’t wanna talk about it anymore
all their wasted time
waiting for tomorrow”

Collapse is perhaps most remarkable for its final message. It’s one thing to make an album suffused with genuine emotion, tales of heartbreak and suffering, but another thing entirely to see it through to the light at the end of the tunnel, the idea that things can and will get better if you can hold tight and keep on going. So while, as the first song hints, contemporary country/folk songs might not be as sold on the idea of God as those of the past, Collapse is Jeremy Squires showing us there are religious experiences to be found everywhere. Be this through God or not, in times of struggle or in quiet, everyday, small-town existence. Society may be changing but ideas of love, forgiveness, and ultimately redemption are not unobtainable. As Squires wrote in an email about the album, “This album is about overcoming in general, coping with loss, persevering and becoming whole again.” It’s this sense of hope that sets him apart from many of his peers. It’s (relatively) easy to write sad songs for listeners to wallow in, but in offering the possibility of change and recovery, Collapse feels not just unusual but important.

You can order it now on CD and digital download from the Jeremy Squires Bandcamp page.